Pep Talk - WHRN 2009 - In the Beginning, There was a Giant Spaghetti Monster: Gods and Mythology by Subtle Kisses
On the wall of my tutor base at College is a newspaper article about the Giant Spaghetti Monster. I have never read the whole thing, but what I can grasp is that a group of people began their own religion based around; you guessed it, a Giant Spaghetti Monster. In one of my favourite books, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, there is an alien race that believes that all life has been sneezed from a giant beings nose and live in fear of the day they call Ďthe coming of the great green handkerchief.í Wow: thatís one amazing origin myth isnít it? :D
I love religion. Iím not religious myself, but religions fascinate me: and inevitably, itís usually religions and mythology that I spend too much time on when it comes to world-building. Now I have to try and cram everything I could talk about into one relatively short pep talk.
Letís start with the basics. There are several stances your culture could have on the subject of Religion. Perhaps the easiest at first glance is an atheist stance: that there is no God so we shouldnít worry about it. Whilst this is easy in its own way because you donít need to put any thought into the complexities of their religion, it also throws up its own problems. What do they use to swear, for example? (Always important XD) What do they blame illness on? How do they explain natural phenomena? How did they reach the conclusion of Ďthere is no God?í These questions hold as much importance as having a religion, so donít think Atheism is an easy way out!
So what are the other options? Thereís the obvious of monotheism (one God) but thereís also Animism (everything has a spirit, but there may or may not be Gods), Polytheism (many Gods), Monism (everything is one, and everything works in harmony) and Dualism (two opposing cosmic forces). Of course, you can combine these to make new combinations, or even have two or more religions co-existing in one area: but letís not get ahead of ourselves, hmm?
So now we have no God, one God, many gods or somewhere in between these, letís look at origins. Every culture has an origin myth, and while it may not hold any sway on your story at all, it can be fun to create. It can also help you build your understanding on how your religion, and your culture, works. People use religion to explain things. Natural disasters tend to be a Godís wrath, whilst a good summer is a blessing. For many cultures, religion is a way of life, not something to do on a Sunday morning. Similarly, religions can reflect on a culture. If a culture is particularly violent, they may worship a violent God. If they live somewhere where farming is important, they are likely to have some sort of fertility goddess. A pacifist tribe wouldnít worship a God of war, but they might devote themselves to following a God of peace.
While all of this is interesting, keep an eye on the scope of your story. If your plot has little to do with religion, then knowing the form of religion and the name of the deities will be enough. If however, religion plays a bigger role in your novel, then keep going.
Myths are used to explain certain things and exemplify behaviour. For example, in the Greek myth of Bellerophon, the hero grows egotistical and fancies he can fly to Mount Olympus on Pegasus, only to be thrown from the horses back and spend the rest of his days a broken man. This warns people of what could happen if they donít obey the Gods and if they become too self-centred. Whilst itís not needed to create a whole myth set for your world, it can be fun, and if needed, an extended story-telling could pack out your word count ;)
So myths and religions serve a purpose of helping humans explain the world, and giving them a sense of purpose. But how is the religion organised? Are there temples and shrines, or is it a deeply personal thing? Are there religious festivals and if so, what happens during them? Who can devote their lives to the deities; only men, or women too? If thereís more than one religion, or indeed, more than one God, do they co-exist or do they hate each otherís guts? Is there a trickster God or a Satan figure to lure people from the righteous path? Is the religion really real, or is it just fabricated rubbish? Do people believe it, or just pretend to? Does your world witness miracles, or do the Gods in whatever form they come in ignore the world? Do certain people believe they are Ďchosení above others?
There are hundreds of questions that can be asked about religions, and even then you would be barely scratching the surface. The important thing is to get across what is needed, and that depends on how involved your religion is with your story. That you have a deity known as Xania, and she is a Mother Goddess, who is worshipped through sacrifice, may be enough for your novel. Then again, your novel could demand hundreds of gods that inter-fight and inter-marry as much as the Greek gods did several thousand years ago.
My advice is to look up some real life religions if youíre stuck for ideas. And if that doesnít help, you can always steal something and change the names :D
Good luck with WHRN guys, I hope my pep-talks up to now havenít been too boring. Hereís a link for this one: http://inkwellideas.com/?page_id=27